Three days after NHL teams took their pick of the best 17- and 18-year-old players in the world in the draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs looked to the junior ranks once again to find a replacement for Dallas Eakins. General manager Dave Nonis confirmed a report from CTV Kitchener that he had hired former Kitchener Rangers head coach Steve Spott to take the same role with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Eakins left the club 22 days ago to take the vacant head-coaching job with the Edmonton Oilers.
Spott spent seven seasons working under Peter DeBoer as an assistant coach before DeBoer was hired to be head coach of the Florida Panthers in 2008. DeBoer and Spott led the Rangers to a Memorial Cup victory in 2003 and an OHL Championship in 2008. That 2008 team included current Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri, who scored 65 points in 68 games as a 16-year-old. Spott was promoted to head coach and general manager when DeBoer left for the NHL, and led the Rangers to four playoff appearances (including two trips to the third round) in five years.
Spott became a household name in Canada when he was hired to coach Team Canada’s entry at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship. Spott received a lot of flak, however, for his conservative, dump-and-chase style of play that didn’t mesh well with Canada’s uber-talented roster. He was also criticized for giving Nathan MacKinnon, the first overall selection in last Sunday’s draft, fourth line minutes. Canada ended up losing 6-5 to Russia in overtime in the Bronze Medal Game.
Spott takes over a Toronto Marlies team that’s expected to see quite a few changes by opening day. Nonis mentioned he expects a few Marlies to get a shot to take a bottom six role with the Leafs this year. Some of those players who will get a shot include Joe Colborne, Ryan Hamilton, Jerry D’Amigo, Spencer Abbott, and Carter Ashton. The Marlies will likely be a younger team, with more emphasis on developing players than winning hockey games. It will be interesting to see how players like Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Josh Leivo, Tyler Biggs, and Stuart Percy develop under Spott this year.